Welp, all’s well that ends well right? It certainly wasn’t the dominating performance many were hoping for as the #7 Michigan Wolverines took the field against Middle Tennessee State. Jim Harbaugh’s team struggled to get going and, ultimately, made the kind of mistakes that will hurt them against tougher competition. Still, a win is a win - so let’s see how they got there…
#SpeedInSpace breaks through… even if it was hazy at times
A new offensive system inevitably takes some time to work out - so it seemed to go with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ “Speed In Space” philosophy on Saturday, which had some lows, but very encouraging highs.
To the former, there were a slew of mental mistakes, some of which likely can’t really be blamed on the offensive system (two fumbles, including one by Shea Patterson on the very first play), as well as some playcalls that were, let’s just say a little too “cute”. These included some perplexing schemes that put back-up QB Dylan McCaffrey on the field with Patterson, along with a handful of other plays that just seemed like Michigan was out-thinking itself. Against Middle Tennessee State and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, that simply won’t go unpunished.
But the highs - boy were they great.
There were more shots down the field, more effective quick slants, and - truthfully - simply more potential in this playbook than we’ve seen in years past. There were plenty of highlights that will look great on film, and should serve as a foundation on which Michigan can build their season.
Zach Charbonet looked fantastic in his collegiate debut (8 carries, 90 yards), while the passing game found nine different receivers throughout the day. Some unforced errors complimented the above issues - but things like dropped balls and missed blocks will disappear as the rust gets shaken off. That’s just what these types of tune-up games are for.
By the time the final whistle sounded everything seemed to be in relatively good order - they finished with 453 yards and 40 points against a respectable defense. More importantly, though, they’ll have a list of things they can do better moving forward, all of which are in their control.
The struggles were real, but they were also internal - and everything that went wrong appears fixable.
The defense will be just fine
Like the offense, there were some issues to work out defensively that are simply the result of early season hiccups needing to get worked out.
Injuries to Donovan Jeter and Mike Dwumfour forced Ben Mason (who you’ll remember playing almost all of his minutes at fullback last year) into the defensive tackle role, where he was… well he wasn’t great. Both Jeter and Dwumfour are expected back as soon as this weekend’s game against Army, so check that off the list of things to worry about.
Meanwhile, the rest of the unit seemed a bit slot to catch on to QB Asher O’Hara, who finished with a solid outing of 217 yards on nearly 70% passing through the air to go with 32 more yards on the ground and three total touchdowns.
Still, this is all splitting hairs for a program that has gotten used to objective dominance week in, and week out: the Wolverines hit the final six minutes having allowed only 195 yards (per MGoBlog), and had a slew of new faces make big plays.
Defensive back Ambry Thomas had an absolutely ridiculous interception towards the end of the first half, while Josh Uche - despite recording no tackles on the day - got so close to sack a few times I actually yelped. Expect to see more of him soon.
Overall, once the starting DL’s return, I expect to see this defense once again like one of the country’s best. And they can start with next week, as a unique challenge comes knocking...
Next week, Michigan welcomes Army to the friendly confines of The Big House and it will be a game in which they’ll face an offense built on controlling the ball through a disciplined option attack.
This will force Michigan to do two things:
1. They’ll need to sure up their internal run-stopping ability
2. Their offense can’t afford to make the same mistakes again, because Army will hold onto the football for as long as possible
Be on the lookout for our full preview later this week!
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